OXFORDSHIRE’S fire service has launched a new drive to boost diversity.

The service has urged applicants from all parts of the community to apply, including women, people who are black or Asian, people who are gay, bisexual and transgender, and those with certain disabilities.

Chief fire officer Jo Bowcock joined 17 years ago after graduating from university and encouraged anyone thinking of joining to give it a go.

She said: "I’ve always enjoyed being fit and active. I needed something where I could do things that kept me fit, whilst making a difference to the community.

"A career in the fire service seemed the perfect fit.

"If you’re in two minds on if this is the career for you – give it a go. You’ll be supported by a great training programme and a brilliant team. I’ve never looked back."

Ms Bowcock said the service wanted people from all backgrounds to apply as they would add individual value to the team.

She added: "It’s really important that we have a mixed skill set. We want to recruit different, not just the stereotypical - or what people perceive to be the stereotypical – firefighter.

"I’m not your stereotypical firefighter, yet I feel I’ve contributed a huge amount to the role within the fire and rescue service."

She has a vision of the fire service reflecting the county that it serves.

She said: "Our staff come from all walks of life, regardless of sex, religion or ethnicity.

"What they all have in common is self-reliance, confidence, respect, enthusiasm, team spirit and a willingness to be ready for anything when they are alerted to an emergency."

The force says it champions career progression, with firefighters moving up the ranks to senior roles.

Another firefighter, Mike Clarke, said his career showed that people with ambition could land leadership roles.

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The station manager, who joined the fire service in 1996, said: “I wanted a job that was challenging, something that would be different every day, where I couldn’t predict what was coming next. I haven’t been disappointed.

“I was a frontline firefighter for about three years, based at Luton fire station, before progressing to leading firefighter. Then I was promoted to sub officer as a training instructor, responsible for new recruits.

“I became a station manager in Bedfordshire before transferring to Oxfordshire a decade ago. Here I’ve held several positions including Road Safety Manager, promoting casualty reduction schemes like Safe Drive.

“My current role as Station Commander for Banbury, Deddington and Woodstock fire stations began in April 2019.”

Mr Clarke said one of the highlights of his job was educating the youth about the dangers and risks that they may encounter in life that firefighters have a duty to respond to, as well as saving people's lives.

He said: “I’ve sat in a room of young people where you could hear a pin drop; they were consumed by our road safety presentation showing the devastation caused by reckless driving.

“In emergency response, we encounter people often at the worst moments of their lives. Firefighters bring the skill, training, compassion and knowledge to quickly move those people from a position of harm to one of safety.

“That’s what makes this career so worthwhile. Saving lives; changing lives. Encouraging people to behave responsibly because they now understand the risks and consequences of doing otherwise.”

For more information on becoming a wholetime firefighter, go to www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/wholetimefirefighters.